Back to resources

Pausing for Innovation

Productivity
Team Processes

31 March, 2021

Arjita Ghosh
Arjita Ghosh

Senior Director of Engineering at Quizlet

Arjita Ghosh, Director of Engineering at Quizlet, shares how intentional pausing can instigate innovation and boost productivity.

Problem

Though notoriously under-resourced, startups are widely considered a hotbed for new ideas. However, their fast pace often makes them lose sight of innovation. Delivering the product is not nearly enough; if your product is not innovative is not competitive.

As a company, we are in a continuous CI/CD pipeline where one delivery is followed by the next, which goes ad infinitum. In that kind of hectic environment, intentional pausing for a week can help instigate innovation and boost productivity.

Actions taken

I decided to introduce week-long, team-wide pausing during which engineers, designers, and PMs from one team would come together and brainstorm. For the first day or two, they should bounce their ideas off and compare them with what the competition would be doing. Then, on the day three and four, people should translate their ideas into concrete projects. This phase should resemble hackathons and would culminate with a demo presentation and a retro of the process on the day five. The whole process would be guided by what the team would need and want to solve, and they would be provided space to explore, try different approaches, and build what they would believe would be the best solution.

During the demo on the day five, a PM or a Product Analyst would assess if a proposed idea would be feasible and if it would have the innovation potential. They would also apply the RICE scoring model calculating reach, impact, confidence, and effort. Only after those results would be studied, the team would start planning a full-fledged project.

I find intentional pausing to be a critical component in this process. It allows your mind to escape day-to-day work and focus on things you are passionate about. If your team takes a collective break and distance themselves from mere delivering, they would be able to identify gaps and potential they went unnoticed in our fast-paced environment. Also, pausing helps us connect our daily work with a broader picture and helps us understand how our daily efforts contribute to it.

For example, one of my team was working on the problem of student onboarding. Though they were exceedingly productive, they were not getting the number of users they were hoping for. We decided to pause for a week, forget what we were doing and explore new ideas within that scope. First, we looked at what the competition was doing, which led us to conclude that we were failing to reach out to our students when they needed us the most -- before starting a semester or before an important exam. The brainstorming helped us crystalize how important it was to reach students at the right time, and we decided to try different push mechanisms that we never tried before.

Lessons learned

  • Pausing helps people change their vantage point and see a bigger picture. It helps them identify opportunities missed in the fast-paced environment of our daily work.
  • Pausing is not only about slowing down. As you slow down, distancing yourself from the daily work, you will be galvanized by new ideas pouring in and will soon experience an adrenaline rush that resembles the one in hackathons. - The time limit only adds to the positive pressure and excitement. When you are trying to build something in a time constraint environment, the process gets hackier than your regular development cycle.
  • Since you do not release into production, you don’t have to follow all quality checks and configurations, and you can move exceptionally fast trying out different new ideas.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Team Development Framework for new managers

26 June

Individual Contributors are familiar with a technical development framework that helps them with building products. Managers, especially new managers can leverage a parallel framework to help them build their teams while drawing analogies from an already familiar framework.

Building A Team
Team Processes
New Manager
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

Promoting Interdepartmental Teamwork for More Efficient Problem-Solving

13 June

Roland Fiala, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Productsup, raises an interesting issue about autonomy in teams: does it hinder collaboration opportunities that lead to better problem-solving? He shares his system for promoting teamwork in engineering departments.

Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Team Processes
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Usergems

How to Motivate Your Engineers to Grow in Their Careers

13 June

Roland Fiala, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Productsup, highlights the importance of soft skills and shares how he motivates his engineers to further their careers by focusing on personal growth.

Goal Setting
Different Skillsets
Handling Promotion
Personal Growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Motivation
Team Processes
Career Path
Performance
Roland Fiala

Roland Fiala

Senior Vice President of Engineering at Usergems

Checking For Values Alignment When Considering a New Role

20 June

Tommy Morgan, VP Engineering at Crystal Knows, recalls a time in his career when his values didn’t align with his superiors and shares his insights on preventing this outcome when taking on a new role.

Changing A Company
Goal Setting
Managing Expectations
Company Culture
Leadership
Productivity
Convincing
Motivation
Psychological Safety
Toxic Atmospheres
Health / Stress / Burn-Out
Performance
Tommy Morgan

Tommy Morgan

VP Engineering at Crystal Knows

Managing Remotely: Balancing Team Cohesion and Focus Time

26 May

Jonathan Belcher, Engineering Manager at Curative, explains how to balance team cohesion and individual focus time, tapping into his experiences of working remotely for seven years.

Remote
Micromanagement
Meetings
Internal Communication
Productivity
Psychological Safety
Performance
Jonathan Belcher

Jonathan Belcher

Engineering Manager - Patient Experience at Curative